The Days Of Yore: Writers and Artists Before “Making It”

mary karr is badass

When you decide to become a writer, it’s imperative that you begin to see your life as part of an ongoing narrative with a happy ending in which you are the protagonist. If you judge your life using traditional methods, such as “assessing the quality of the present” or “checking your bank account balance,” you can get very depressed, very quickly.

I find “stories of what famous writers did before they were famous writers” to be a primary source of validation in this regard. I can see my present in their past, which means their future must also be my future. Right? Totally.

That’s why I love Days of Yore, a website which interviews different artists — writers, performance artists, comedians, etc — about what it was like when they were just starting out. And in between the stories of cramped apartments, rejection letters, Kraft Dinner and odd jobs; the interviewees have plenty of pearls of wisdom to share about their craft in general.

It currently features great interviews with many of my favorite writers, like Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss, Exposure), Mary Karr (The Liar’s Club, Cherry), Jennifer Egan (Look at Me), Sarah Ruhl (Euridyce), Julia Alvarez (How the  García Girls Lost Their Accents) and Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief). Here are just some of my favorite quotes — go read the whole website now and get smarter!

“When I was younger, I usually found that I wanted to cut out what I should have been writing, because it actually showed who I was more vividly, and it was embarrassing to me. I find this often with students. They have a self they want to be—we all have a sense of how we want to be perceived. And usually you defend that, unconsciously.”

-Mary Karr

“Perseverance is everything. People become experts of the obstacles in front of them. “I’m not tall enough to play football,” “I’m not smart enough to write a novel”…whatever it is. And school, school shows you exactly where the minefields are and is supposed to give you a map so you go around them. What about if stepping on a mine is part of it? You have to live the life you claim you want to have. No one will prevent you, if you only want to live your life. I think we dance around the issue of doing exactly what we want. One of the reasons we don’t talk about doing exactly what we want is to cushion the blow—“Oh I didn’t want it anyway, so it’s OK that I didn’t get it,” etc. No. Apply for the jobs that you really want, and if you don’t get them, it should hurt.”

-Thomas Roma

“The paradox is that I am most myself and least burdened by self when I’m writing. Hours can vanish. Sometimes hours spent on one sentence, which is not so good, but I do love it. I didn’t begin by loving it. I began in the Flannery O’Connor camp of “I love to have written.” I never thought it was fun. I was always in a crisis of anxiety. There were a couple of people at Iowa who said they loved writing, and I thought, “Wow, really? That’s weird.” I’ve come to love it. But I’ve also become far more addicted to it. It really is this thing that I have to do.”

– Kathryn Harrison

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Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2855 articles for us.


  1. Thankyou Thankyou for this, esp. on this day that I’m finishing up writings for school and for CAMP (hooray!)and being harsh on myself.

  2. Yes, I love that website! I think Deborah Eisenberg’s might be my favorite–she just bummed around doing nothing for most of her 20s, which, as a directionless 20-something, gives me hope.

    • oh yes i love that one, like how she went from literally having no desire to do anything, ever, to being a hugely successful writer.

        • autolurker

          There are days I want to die because I’m 22 and still have no talent or passion for anything.

          Thank you for that quote.

          • Lee

            I’m 37. I have no passion or talent. I feel better than ever. You are above ground and that is spectacular!

          • Lee

            Also, check-out wu wei and Taoism. The philosophy says when people try to fix something, we invariably make it worse. Maybe you’re way ahead, not behind.

  3. Excellent!

    Spending the evening reading about writing sounds much better than actually writing.

  4. whoa i just went down an internet black hole and have now become totally obsessed with cheryl strayed.

  5. s.

    oh wow, this is so wonderful, thanks for this! Particularly the Kathryn Harrison quote, I register so much with it.

  6. I like this. It makes me feel much better about being able to nothing else but write.

  7. Thank you Riese, thank you Autostraddle for sharing this. I was just asking myself, what’s the point of making art? Doubting myself, searching for validation…but stumbling upon this website, I feel, is a step forward in my journey.

  8. Lee

    Before your mother or father were born, you already made it.
    Now, could you include religion on this website, please. This is the only website I love. The writers are so young. It could grow up a bit by adressing this GAY topic.

  9. Elle

    Thanks for this. I love the Karr and Roma quotations. Always stuck in the pull of external expectations versus internal ones.

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